Since Oceana’s Stop Seafood Fraud campaign began in May 2011, the organization has tested seafood in grocery stores, sushi restaurants, and other restaurants in an effort to bring attention to mislabeled seafood. Their most recent stop in South Florida found 31% of seafood mislabeled in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.
Sushi restaurants had 58% of their fish mislabeled. Other types of restaurants had 36% mislabeled and grocery stores only had 8% mislabeled (although 8% is still too much.)
84% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, but only 2% of that is inspected. Seafood fraud can take many forms, including lower weights than stated on the package label, excessive breading or other fillers, or substituting a lower quality or cheaper fish for a more expensive one. It’s difficult to tell which species a filet comes from, so Oceana used DNA analysis to determine if the fish they bought was the fish they ordered.
Bad for Your Health, Bad for the Environment
Seafood fraud can actually be dangerous. For instance, a fish commonly substituted for albacore tuna, called escolar, can cause serious gastrointestinal distress. Despite the health risk in eating escolar, neither the U.S. nor Canada bans the importation and sale of escolar. Fish labeled as grouper was often found to be king mackerel, a fish with a high mercury content that should be avoided by pregnant women and young children.
Seafood fraud can also be bad for the environment. Farmed salmon often damages the environment with excessive waste and food. Antibiotics are often used on farmed salmon because they are in a tight space and disease spreads quickly. Fish labeled wild salmon was discovered to be farmed salmon 19% of the time.
Oceana has also investigated seafood fraud in the Boston (at the same time as The Boston Globe) and Los Angeles areas last year. While the Miami area had 31% of seafood mislabeled, Boston had 48% and Los Angeles had 55%. The state of Florida has been active testing seafood for fraud and issuing citations, which may account for the lower rate.
What Can You Do?
Oceana has a letter to the Senate ready to go. Just fill in your information and send it. You can also change some of the text in the letter to personalize it.
Sushi photo via Shutterstock